Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Middle Kingdom of Crypto-zoology

David C Xu is a Chinese crypto-zoology enthusiast educated in China and Britain. He seems to be on a first name basis with Dr Karl Shuker, the British crypto-zoologist extraordinaire, who provided Xu's mini-encyclopedia with an enthusiastic foreword. I admit that “Mystery Creatures of China” is quite good. Xu must have spent half a lifetime mining various Chinese chronicles, books and magazines for information on fabulous beasts and where to (perhaps) find them. A funny detail is that he sometimes references Shuker's books as sources, as well!

Some of the cryptids mentioned in this work are well known outside China: the Yeren, the Abominable Snowman, the Qilin unicorn and the Chinese dragon. I assume the Lütoulang and the weirdly brilliant Bei are also well-known, but I never heard about them before reading the book. The Bei is supposedly a fox-like creature which can't walk, and therefore lives its entire life being carried on the back of a wolf. The Bei is said to be extremely intelligent, and often instructs the wolf-pack in how to attack humans. I don't think Xu believes in these stories, but he has included a real photo purporting to show a stuffed wolf-Bei pair! Other hard-to-believe entities covered by this oeuvre include the three-humped camel (supposedly discovered by a Swedish archaeologist simply known as Henry D), the Hippo-turtle-ox, an amphibian yak known as Huponiu, the blood-sucking “blanket”, the Nine-Headed Bird, and the Hongliuwa a.k.a. the tamarisk-chapleted little people. The Yeren turns out to have some pretty original evolutionary cousins: the Water Man-Bear, the Hairy Woman of Hainan Island and the Fish-Man (who/which looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon).

On a less “far out” note, this volume also mentions creatures which could be real animals of a flesh-and-blood nature (or fur and fang, as it were). These include blue, white or black color morphs of the tiger, the so-called Xinjiang tiger, a small species of lion, a white-pelted bear, and perhaps even the Lütoulang. One animal known to be real has been included as well: the “brown panda”, a rare color morph of the Giant Panda. The author also sheds some light on the 2007/2010 “horned dragon fossil” controversy on the web, including some real photos of a fossilized pre-historic beast which does indeed seem to have horns. He cautiously points out that since many Chinese fossils are fake or manipulated, it's still too early to tell what this creature might have been…

Perhaps to the chagrin of true believers in fur-and-fang crypto-zoology, Xu has included entries on many beings obviously folkloric in nature. And to the chagrin of true believers in anything except Jesus, he has also proposed skeptical explanations for many of the cryptids (including misidentification of known species, hoaxes, or outright delusions). All in all, a real tour de force, and worth every one of the five stars!

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